The theme from my inverse breakdown is pitching, mostly starting pitching. The teams that are below the Cubs have more questions, in my opinion, over what their rotation will look like and what they can depend on. Jeff Samardzija is one of the most underrated aces a team has. He emerged last season, finishing 9-13, 3.81 in 28 starts, striking out 180 batters in 174 2/3 IP. He seemed to get more confident as the season went on and the Cubs have rewarded him with the opening day start to open 2013. Jackson (10-11. 4.13 with Washington in 2012) finally got his multi-year deal, signing a 4 year, $52 million deal with the Cubs. He may be a little overpaid, but he should slide nicely between Samardzija and Garza. Garza (5-7, 3.91 in 18 starts) is pitching for a new contract as doubt begins to mount over whether he is an ace-type pitcher. In my opinion, one of the most underrated young pitchers is Travis Wood, obtained last off season in a trade that sent Sean Marshall to the Reds. Though Marshall is a very good power lefty reliever, I feel Wood will become the more accomplished pitcher. Last season, Wood went 6-13, 4.27 in 26 starts for the Cubs after starting the season in the minors. He reminds me of a Jonathon Niese, and I can see him having a season similar to Niese's 2012. Scott Baker (from Minnesota), Scott Feldman (from Texas) and Carlos Villeneuva (from Toronto) are all interesting additions who can both fill the 5th starter spot and help out in the back of the bullpen.
A couple positives from the Cubs bullpen from last season were journeyman Shawn Camp (3-6, 3.59 in 80 games) and James Russell (7-1, 3.25 in 77 games). Arms like Feldman and Villeneuva can make the 7th and 8th innings more compact. Kyuji Fujikawa was signed to be either the 8th inning man or closer, depending if Carlos Marmol is moved. Marmol has been one of the least dependable closers in all of baseball over the past couple seasons and is in need of a change of scenery.
The Cubs expect a big season out of 23 year old 1B Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo, acquired in a trade with the San Diego Padres, has followed GM Hoyer from Boston to San Diego to Chicago. He played in 87 games last season, hitting .285, 15, 48. I expect his power numbers to increase this season. If the Cubs contend to start this season, Alfonso Soriano (.262, 32, 108) will help provide the Cubs with a solid 3-4 or 4-5 punch. The lineup returns Starlin Castro (.283, 14, 78), 2B Darwin Barney (.254, 7, 44) and CF David Dejesus (.263, 9, 50). Hairston (.263, 20, 57) expects to platoon in RF with Nate Schierholtz, who split last season with San Francisco and Philadelphia. The Cubs will go with 26 year old catcher Wellington Castillo and veteran Dioner Navarro to round out the order. I'd order them: DeJesus CF, Barney 2B, Castro SS, Rizzo 1B, Soriano LF, Hairston RF, Ian Stewart 3B, Castillo C. Stewart is another wild card as he can have a big impact if he returns to the form when he was a top prospect in the Rockies system.
I can see the Cubs surprising some people because of their pitching and decent offense. However, I think the Cubs will lose a lot of games in division, particularly against teams like Cincinnati and St Louis. If Rizzo, Samardzija, Wood and Fujikawa all perform at the high levels I expect them to, this team will overachieve and could finish at .500. Honestly, I think that is too much to ask for. I see them finishing at 73-89, 4th place in the NL Central, 12 games better than they did in 2012. Vegas has their over/under at 72, so I give them the over.